U N H O L Y- W A T E R
This was written as my logbook while at sea off the coast of Belgium during the end of January 2017.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 1
As the RV Onbekend pulled out of the harbor and headed into that all encompassing gray, I glanced back at the equally dismal city of Ostend, and knew that these early mornings were going to be far worse than the rough seas. With crossed arms and a surly scowl, I turned head-on with the wind and walked below the bridge toward the bow of the big ship. I wasn't sure if I was meant to see England on the horizon, but all I found was a blur of storm clouds and endless swells. Scanning back over the dead straight coastline, I reminded myself that for this entire voyage we'd never be any great distance from land. However, like an astronaut in his tiny oasis-bubble of homeostasis, I had contradictory sensations of claustrophobia and agoraphobia. Regardless of my pathetic swimming abilities, it was obvious that I wouldn't last ten seconds down there in that churning sea within all my layers of winter and wet-weather gear. But fuck it, the research vessel was a tough looking cunt. Its wide hull and chunky silhouette plowed through the incoming waves like a champion – until we struck our first giant swell and the foam crashed over my head like bitch-slap from hell! Fuck yes! I loved the smell of salt air and rise and fall of the ship. Reminded me of commuting to and from my home island as a teenager. As the water tricked down my collar and soaked into my chest, I remembered when two good friends and I had spent the day in the outskirts of the city where we had been rained upon nonstop. Being loud-mouth lads with egos eager to prove who had the bigger the balls, we had laughed at our sodden predicament. There's a point when you simply can't get any wetter, so fuck it. But that evening, when we caught the ferry home, I was still high from hysterics and roared with laughter at the the high seas. My two pals however, were less than amused as they gripped their armrests and looked pissed off at my smug tempting of fate. So I was surrounded by death, so fucking what! I knew I should have a healthy hatred of open waters, and don't get me wrong, I always will have a fucking fear being down there in it, but I also had an idiot's faith in the structural integrity of both my childhood ferry and this research vessel steering out west. Was it worse to enjoy the ride like a fucking asshole, or cling to the constant paranoia of a sinking ship? Fuck it, I'll be fine. What could possibly go wrong? Yeah, yeah right. Just keep telling yourself that, if the shit hits the fan and you go down with the ship, screaming all the way.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 2
After toweling myself off, I stumbled through the narrow corridors toward
one of the on-board labs. Professor Samuel was at his computer, and another
old guy was busy plugging in a huge cluster of cables into an overhead conduit.
There were at least two dozen computer screens around the various science
stations, but Samuel immediately slammed his laptop shut once I approached.
"What are you doing here?"
"Rough out there," I grinned, rubbing my cold nose. "So, is there a place around here for me?"
"Okay, then... Where?"
"I don't know."
"Who should I ask then?"
"Really... You have no idea..."
"I'm not in charge around here."
"No, I guess not."
And then the other guy dumped his cables and exited out other door.
"Listen, this was Chloe's idea. Not mine! You better know when to keep your mouth shut around the others!"
"What the fuck could I tell them? I don't know shit about this fucking expedition."
"Exactly. There is no room here for tourists. You've taken Chloe's place for some godforsaken reason I'll never understand. But if the captain learns that you're not writing a PhD or collecting statistics, then he'll have a chopper pick you up at your own expense! In fact, don't ever speak to the captain about anything. He's as impatient as he is perceptive. Stay away from him!"
"Sure... Anything else I should know before I–"
"Don't mention anything, not a thing about what we are scanning for. Keep you mouth glued shut!"
"Everyone speaks French so that's not going to be a problem–"
"Most important, and this should go without saying, just imagine you're on a flight, even joking about bombs will get you in some serious trouble. The same applies here with your swimming... Dysfunction."
"Dysfunction? Jesus, that's a hell of a way to put it."
"How many grown adults do you know that can't swim?"
"So what exactly am I doing here, then?"
The old bearded professor scoffed and turned back to his laptop, "Ask Chloe what the hell she was thinking."
Clenching my lips and jaw, I stood there for an extended period, wondering about what the fuck I was going to entertain myself with for the next eight days.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 3
SOMETHING TO DO
My exploration of the ship soon led to the bridge, and taking note of Samuel's
warning I happily gave not a single fuck. It was a large space about thirty
meters above the water, with four men about the computers consoles. None of
the crew seemed concerned with my presence, so I glanced about, trying to
discern who was in charge. They were all short guys in thick clothes with
shabby beards, but I couldn't picture anyone of them as the head of the pack.
Scanning the whole vessel from bow to stern, I estimated it was about eighty
meters long, with the bridge roughly in the middle. I know ships are meant
to have a female pronoun, but I couldn't even pronounce the name out loud,
so like all dogs, I'll refer to the ship as 'it'. Fuck the identity politics
of gender natural bullshit, I stand with Jordan Peterson on that argument.
Ignoring the cold-shoulder of the crew, I continued back downstairs. Eventually I found the passageways filling with more and more pipes and plumbing. I would say the RV Onbekend was built in the 70's. Some of the walls looked as if they had been repainted a hundred times, you could see the various layer that had flaked off beneath the recent coats. Everything at sea rusted, including people. My father had bought a small yacht when I was a teen. I have no idea how he afforded it. My mother was always in charge of the finances, but I think she had made the calculations that his sanity needed it. For the longest time the yacht sat on a trailer surrounded by other old boats near the causeway. I hated helping him clean and paint the thing. Boys do resist their fathers. Finally though, he acquired a mooring in a small cove on the south side of the island. I've been thinking about it for a while now, but I swear to fuck, I can't remember the name of the bay, nor the name my father gave the boat. The little yacht seemed to make a lot more sense now that it was actually in the water, but I have absolutely no memory of my father ever sailing it anywhere. It was always just on the mooring. Perhaps it was just his man-cave. I failed to appreciate that idea at the time, but now that I think back, it must have been hard for him when he had to sell it. Maybe I'd have a much stronger relationship with him now, if he hadn't died.
And then I ended up in the engine room, or rooms, or area. I think I had been optimistic with my appraisal of the ship's age. Sure, there were plenty of modern appendages and upgrades, but the state of the overall hull was worn and haggard. But then again, maybe the vessel was less a year old, and this was the toll that the ocean had already taken.
Someone then yelled out over the roar of the diesel stinking machinery. A guy in earmuffs and overalls, waved me aside and he closed a metal door behind.
"Sorry, do you speak English?" I asked in that same tone of voice that I've said a billion fucking times.
The fifty-year-old grumbled, and I thought he looked similar to a gray-bearded Russell Crowe. "What, what are you looking for?"
"Nothing," I said with a smile, still glancing around the panels covered in a million dials and switches, pressure gauges and old-school buttons. Not a digital screen was anywhere in sight. "Just looking around."
"Very busy here. No time for sight-seeing."
"Do you need a hand?"
The engineer, twisted his mouth to one side, "My English not so good."
"My French is worse."
"Osip," the guy said patting his chest. "What you're name?"
"Alan," I said, and for the life of me, I have no idea why I used my father's name. Maybe, it was easier that going through that boring conversation of trying to get foreigners to articulate 'Bruce'. Purse, hearse – fuck this, call me Alan.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 4
I was surprised how quickly my first day at sea went. There were no windows
in the engineering section of the ship, so when I went up on deck again, I
was encapsulated in pitch black.
At dinner, I counted eighteen including myself in the mess-hall. All men. I assumed there were at least one or two on the bridge, so let's say there were around twenty aboard. Judging by their attire, half were scientists. Yet everyone looked like the sort of guys that you would find pouring asphalt on roadworks, or driving garbage trucks. They all seemed to have a precise role to fill on the ship, except for me. I was a fifth wheel, and didn't know if Osip really needed my help, or if I was slowing him down.
After dinner I grabbed the laptop that Chloe had given me to write this Logbook, and I sat on the bridge composing her a WTF email. The internet was restricted, so I saved my message till the morning.
I was staring out the wide windows at the spray crashing down over the ship when I slowly became aware of another individual standing over the radar. I had never seen him at dinner. He quickly noticed my prying eye, and nodded once. He was like a bearded Cary Grant, but a lot more bitter. I had no doubt that this was the captain of the ship, and Samuel's description framed him perfectly. He took a seat and didn't bother me as we both stared out into the abyss ahead.
Rain soon smothered the windows, as I listened to Horn Of The Rhino, Brought Back, through my headphones. Drifting back over my memories, I rocked with the ship's slow motion highs and lows. I could hear that familiar sound of metal cables whipping against metal masts, like the rope against a flag pole. It was the rattling of a marina in a strong wind. Whenever I had to help my father with the yacht, I always wanted to row the dinghy out to the mooring. I still have this weird love/hate relationship with deep water. I liked to row the boat but I was petrified of looking over the edge. It wasn't so bad when we were on the yacht and the water was just a constant jade. But in the shallows, I could make out dark shapes that drove my over-active imagination into hyper-drive. There was one summer day when my friends borrowed kayaks. Again, as a teen and not wanting to look like a chicken shit, I joined in. Everything was Jim-Dandy, as long as I didn't look down. Like my first vacation in Greece, when my Fiance and I hired a paddle boat and ended up a good kilometer from Corfu – and got sun burnt feet for my effort. But I was fine. However, when I looked down and realized where I was, a wave of panic surged through my nervous system! I had to remind myself to look straight ahead. Don't fucking look down you idiot! But what if I fell in?! No! That's not going to happen. Everything is fantastic. You will never fall overboard. Just don't look down and you have nothing to fear but the fear of Jaws itself. Remember, people are watching. Man up! But then there was that one time when I had fair reason to shit my pants. It had been a brilliant summer's day when I was around twelve. My father and I had decided to climb around the rocks between our local bays. I had always liked exploring and looking for pirate treasure as a kid, so this was my idea of a good time. Except we had gone further that either my father or I had realized, and the tide had begun to come up. He knew we couldn't make it back the way we'd come. There were cliffs above so we had to keep going to the next beach. We could see it from where we were so there was no cause for alarm. Until we came to a large section in the rocks where it dropped off. There was this five-meter gap that was impossible to climb around. I was horrified! The family dog, Smoky, didn't give a damn as my father threw him into the choppy waves. He happily swam and scrambled up the other side like a real fucking trooper. My father was the kind of guy who once took a litter of unwanted kittens in a sack and threw them out to sea. He didn't fuck around. So he told me to climb on his back and he would leap onto a rock just under the water half-way across the gap. I stared into that great divide and thought he was fucking insane! But what choice did we have. So like a skinny rodent, I clung to my big father and dug my fingers in as we took a leap of faith. There is something about trusting someone in that kind of situation that makes you admire them on a fundamental level.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 5
OF NO USE
I had my alarm set for 6am, but everyone already had breakfast by the time
I walked into the deserted mess-hall. I took my coffee up to the bridge and
found the crew all staring out the back windows. That was when I learned that
the ship had been built as a trawler before being modified into the research
vessel in the late 90's. At the stern of the ship, large hydraulic cranes
were deploying equipment into the foam.
After my coffee, I headed down to the aft deck to see if I could be of some assistance. I was however, quickly told to get the fuck out of the way! At least that's what the crew's tone of voice and gestures implied. So I stayed back like a good dumbfuck.
The storm seemed to have worsened over night. I cringed when some kind of large metal submersible thing swung wildly on the crane, and then smash against the railing, before dropping into the waves. They sure built them tough, cause that thing just had the shit knocked out of it.
I enjoyed watching the crew busy themselves on deck, but there's only so much of voyeurism I can handle before the devil wants my idle hands.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 6
EVERYONE HAS AN AGENDA
Samuel was preoccupied with his scans of the sea floor, and he had nothing
but a snobbish grunt for me.
I ended up in the engine room, helping Osip and two other mechanics with a series of busted fuses. The weather was putting some major strain on the systems, and multiple pressure valves were hissing louder than pistons. Osip said that we were dragging sonar equipment for some oil company, as well as another machine for a telecommunications conglomerate. Science doesn't pay for itself, after all. It seemed like everyone aboard was working for various international corporations. No wonder the conversation around the dinner table was as superficial as shit. Samuel was right to be paranoid, apparently even Osip had signed some huge nondisclosure contract for shipping out. In fact, this was Osip's first voyage on RV Onbekend. From what I could make out, Osip had moved to Belgium a year ago looking for work. Said he had previously worked on the Black Sea. Before that, he was vague, mumbled about some falling out he had had with his family church, or something.
The other two engineers soon displayed their growing intolerance toward my presence, but I couldn't think of anything else to do, so I let them stew in their fucking juices. And it stunk something rancid in that humid hole.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 7
BETTER THAN A COLD SHOWER
We seemed to get the overloaded systems under control by midday, so I pulled
my wet-weather gear over my overalls and headed up on deck. Sweating like
a filthy fuck, I went right up to the bow. The very first wave I faced, collided
with the ship with such force that all I saw was a mountainous spectacle of
white water above. I had about one second to live in regret before I was slammed
into and swept clean off my fucking feet! Sliding, tumbling, rolling down
the flooded deck, I thumped into something solid and clung to it as the sea
drained away. Winded and soaking, I slowly climbed to my knees, just as another
massive wave thumped onto my back! Holding on with instantly frozen fingers,
I looked up and saw the crew in distant bridge laughing at me like the stupid
shit I was. But then the ego kicked into gear, and I swallowed that flight
instinct. A smaller wave poured past as I turned into the storm. Grabbing
the railing on the side of the bow, I inched all the way up to a ladder at
the very tip of the ship. More icy foam gushed over my head. But my pride
demanded that I climb up to the top and see the oncoming seas with my own
two eyes – I didn't make it. Grabbed from behind, one of the crew screamed
at me as he pointed back at the bridge. Fucking buzzkill.
Expecting a grilling, I stood hunched and shivering in front of the angry looking men on the bridge. The captain however, only gave me a brief glance. "Don't do that again," was all he said, and everyone went back to work.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 8
WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING HERE
Warming myself up with a few mugs of coffee and clean clothes, I was sitting
in the empty mess-hall when I heard Samuel's voice coming from down the corridor.
With a blanket around my shoulders, I peered around the door, but I was distracted
by a small round window. There I saw the only other ship I had seen since
we left port. It was a tiny fishing boat. Those cunts has some serious backbone
to risk this weather. Samuel then walked by at the intersection of passageways.
He was busy talking Spanish on a satellite phone, so I followed him. I wanted
to know if he was speaking to Chloe. The ship then rocked violently and I
spilled my coffee over the blanket. By the time I shook myself off, Samuel
was nowhere in sight. Hurrying down the passageways, I soon heard him yelling,
and then I walked into a large cargo hold. Samuel abruptly went silent and
stepped out from behind a stack of crates. "Bruce?"
"What are you doing here?"
"I heard you on the phone."
"Don't be an idiot! You know the protocol. No phones or means of tracking our location aboard."
"I saw you."
Knowing full well that I'd seen the thick aerial of the satellite phone, I slowly said, "I need to call to Chloe."
"Enough of this talk of Chloe!"
"She paid for my little trip. And you two are best of friends. Don't you think I should be doing something out here on her behalf?"
"No! All she wanted was for you to be here. That's it!"
"Why the fuck would she want that? She said that you had something for me to do out here!"
"Why the hell did you even come? Last year you expressed absolutely no interest. And that suited me just fine! Honestly, I want to know. What or who exactly changed you mind?! Who have you been speaking to?!"
Smiling, I glared back into the old professor's bloodshot eyes. Perhaps he knew about my encounter with Aviv at Christmas. "Just over a week ago, for my thirty-ninth birthday, instead of strippers or steak, I did a spontaneous suspension. You know, meat hooks in your shoulder-blades."
"Why on earth would anyone do such a thing?"
"Seemed like a good idea at the time."
"You're a deviant and moron!"
"Yeah, well, maybe. But the moment my feet left the floor, I saw something. That's the only reason I came. Not for you, or your precious fucking archeology bullshit. So you can calm the fuck down."
"Great, and you're delusional too."
"Man, I'm just bored. Give me something to do, that's all I'm asking."
"Go ask the captain, if you must!"
"Speak to the captain? Now you want me talking to him?"
"Do what you like! Just don't concern me, I'm not your damned babysitter!"
Holding my blanket tight, I glared back at the fidgety old guy as he began coughing. "Yeah... See you round," I sneered, with no intention of wasting a another moment on that prick.
As soon as I stepped out of the cargo hold, I ran in my socks back down the long passageways to the lab. There were two others working on their computers, as I casually leaned over Samuel's work space. His laptop was obviously password-protected, but beneath it were several enormous charts of the English Channel and North Sea. Spreading them out, I followed a cluster of numbers marked in red. I might as well have been reading equations written by Stephen Hawking. So rolling them up, I marched back to the bridge with a cheery skip to my step.
There was now only one guy at the helm, and he was coughing his lungs out. He didn't speak a lick on English, and as I showed him the charts and pointed to the highlighted areas, he shook his head annoyed, then pulled me over to a computer, muttering something in French as he tapped at the screen. I was blank-faced. He snarled madly, grabbed the charts, and then began typing in the red numbers. Suddenly an alarm rang throughout the bridge! Yelling, the guy tossed the charts aside and snatched up his hand-held two-way radio. Staring back at the computer I was lost. I know nothing in French. Were the numbers coordinates, the sea depth, or just phone numbers for international hookers? Fucked if I know.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 9
I wanted to ask Osip about the charts but he was even busier and there was
a loud howling/grinding noise that hadn't come from the engine before.
So I put on my rubber pants, coat, and boots, and went out onto the back of the ship. There several crew were reeling in a heavy cable.
Finally, I found something to do in the kitchen, and peeled potatoes like a chump. Still better than doing nothing.
I avoided the crew at dinner and ate in the kitchen.
Spending the evening in my corner on the bridge, the captain and I ignored each other as I listened to 1000mods, Low, and watched the waves crash over the bow. It was completely black out there, and then you'd feel the drop just before the white spray was lit up by the ship's lights. Last year when I had visited my aunt in Edinburgh, she had mentioned something in a passing comment that had stuck with me. She said that my father had been dealt a bum-hand. Generally, I don't dwell on my family often, but when I do, it's my father who comes to mind. I remind myself never to become like him, yet I recognize the value in the lessons he instructed. For like Michel Foucault said, we must mine our history for the gold. Unlike my brother, the good strong son, I was the weakling, so I've had to prove myself with whatever means I can. I remember my father yelling, but I also remember him laughing just as much. When I was sixteen, we hired a small piece of shit motor bike and taught me to ride. He rode his own bike and roared with laughter at my failing attempts at changing gear on a hill. It wasn't fun, though vastly easier than learning to ride a bicycle. My testicles were mostly relived. I could hear my father's bike coming for a mile off. The specific tone the engine. And then the jingle of his key chain. He wasn't a member of a biker gang, but he could have run one. Yet he dressed more like John Wayne. He was half-biker, half-cowboy and existed in a cross-over world that was all his own. One lesson I learned from him: WALK WITH YOUR CHIN UP! There was this story that he told, when he was young, while riding his bike in Scotland during the summer, a fucking bumble bee flew into his shirt. He swerved on the highway and slammed on the breaks. In the middle of the stalled traffic, like a lunatic, he ripped his shirt off, threw it on the street, and then pulled out a handgun (that resembled a sawn-off shotgun) and shot the shit out of his shirt! Classic! I'm amazed he never spent time in prison. Guess my aunt was right when she said his time in the military straightened him out. When I was a kid, he used to design the firing mechanisms for guns, and then build them out of wood. He showed me how to file down a plank of wood into the hull of a Spanish gallon, which became one of my favorite toys. I spent hours alone, out the back of the house in the dark workshop, chiseling away at that block of wood. He didn't just teach me a craft, he taught me to confront my fear of the dark, until all I saw was the work. Just like now. All I see is what I focus on. The storm wasn't there unless I thought about it.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 10
WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE
I woke the next morning to find that I wasn't alone. Several others were
still sleeping, so I double checked my alarm clock.
While on my second mug of coffee, I gradually climbed up to the bridge in the dark morning light. It was hailing, and my thick rain coat felt like a cosy sleeping bag. I saw Samuel's charts still rolled up and in the corner, but I had no interest in communicating with either of the two crewmen.
It wasn't long before one of those two sailors began a coughing fit that only ended once he collapsed upon the floor! I turned my head, watching as the other crewman took a knee to help. With one hand on the window frame, the other buried in my warm pocket, I was perplexed as the crewman yelled something in French before I was left all by lonesome on the bridge. Glancing around, over either shoulder, I opened my mouth but had no one to express my form concerns toward. Seriously, you left me responsible for the entire ship? Where the fuck was the captain?! Stepping over to the consoles, I was wide-eyed above what could have been a mixing desk in a sound studio for all I knew. There wasn't even a steering wheel to cling to for dear life. So I just stood there in the middle of the bridge, not touching a fucking thing. But then again, there was nothing out there in all that gray mist, just waves and frost on the glass.
Captain Grant soon appeared, and I shrugged at his cautious approach as if he wanted to say, what the fuck do you think you're doing at the helm? My expression relayed without words, I don't even fucking know, but you're fucking welcome, motherfucker.
Seems I was wrong. I actually enjoyed these early mornings. With the new year, I had decided to go to the gym in the mornings instead of after work, and to my surprise, I had adapted remarkably easily. Maybe I was getting old and needed less sleep. I hoped so, sleep is a utter waste of time. But I was anticipating having a shaky time once we returned to dry land. The longest I had ever spent on a boat before this, was a fishing trip with my father and his buddies on a crappy launch in gulf between the island and city. Don't jump to conclusion, I was never into fishing, this was the one and only time I ever partook, but we had a good haul. I even had a turn on the wheel, motoring straight into flocks of seagulls that were dive-bombing schools of fish near the surface. It was all fun and games until the weather packed in, then I had sat in the cabin, this time I was the one clutching on with white knuckles. I had no faith in that tiny boat against the chop. My best friend at the time would have loved to see me squirm as if karma was laughing at my dread. Of course we made it to calmer waters safe and sound, but that night my balance was way off. That had been after only one day at sea, so I wondered how long it would take for my inner-ear to recover after this extended excursion. Maybe if you're a lifer, like Captain Grant, you only ever feel normal on a perpetually moving platform. A few year ago, while my back tattoo was being completed, I had read The Old Man And The Sea. It wasn't at all what I was expecting, yet it left a rather mocking impression upon me. You spend your whole life doing what you do best, but then you wake up an old man and you still have nothing. Even when you finally get a chance to prove yourself, you're left with fucking nothing. Nothing but another day of try, try, and try again. It's the only work of Hemingway that I've read, but I heard somewhere that he once said, you have to live life before you can write about it. My father then came back to the fore. Undoubtedly he had always been a man's man. A rebel forced into the army. Worked in the shipyards. Was a scrapper and a boxer. Climbed mountains and traveled the world before he meet my mother at a bus shelter while hiking. Then he was a weight-lifter and literally slaughtered sheep for the table. A drinker who made home-brew. Rode big bikes and worked the land. Loved his guns, knives, and westerns. Yet when on a school trip with my brother, he slipped on a mud track and permanently damaged his knee. On that same trip however, he loved to recall how while riding horses, my brother's ride suddenly bolted! He shrieked like a little girl and my father laughed just like I did. My brother never went near a horse again. So when I turned fifteen, I took the opportunity to prove that I wouldn't allow an animal to intimate me as it had my big brother. I wasn't a psycho, I never tortured animals, but I never saw them as much more than meat. Once you've seen rabbits breed, butchered, and buttered up on you dinner plate since childhood, you soon appreciate that you're made of the exact same stuff. Some say that animals therefore should have rights and be respected. I however, went the other way, we are no more than worthless fucking meat! Just like when my father was lying unconscious in that hospital bed surrounded by his family with his second son watching his heart monitor slow down to nothing. And I felt nothing. He had finally become nothing. I might have once held a Kafka-like perception of my this man. But unlike that sniveling runt, I learned from my father's lessons. I both feared and admired him, but at the end of the day, I utterly hated that miserable old prick, and I was glad that he was fucking dead! I stood over his body. He was defeated. I was not. As my mother, brother, and sister wept, I stood with dry eyes, just like at his funeral. If nothing else, I would never repeat his self-confessed mistakes. If his genes live through me, then I will be all I will be. I am the son of man. And I have no pity for the past. Fuck Kafka!
And then a huge tarpaulin down on the front deck tore loose! The captain grabbed his radio and barked orders, but to no response. I looked at the growing irritation of the captain, so I shook my head and pulled up my hood.
The rain was like getting shot with a thousand BB guns all at once. As I made it to the flapping sheet, another crewman also arrived on the scene. Only one side of the tarpaulin was still roped down, and just as the other guy grabbed his corner: the ship dropped, a wave crashed, and a wind picked up sending the guy flying five meters off the fucking deck! I couldn't help smirk as he was then slammed flat on the deck like a pancake!
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 11
STRESSFUL DAY AT SEA
It took about half an hour to get the tarpaulin pinned down. I was exhausted
and soaked through. Felt as though I had been wrestling with a giant hog on
a leash. I had no dry clothes left to change into, and began to wonder if
this wet-weather gear was doing anything at all. My rubber boots were full
of water and the pack of think woolen socks that Chloe had given me before
departure, were now all wet. I don't know how fishermen do it. Was there some
technique to keeping the water out, or do they simply not give a fuck? While
sitting in the mess-hall with a mug of coffee, I ringed out my socks and stared
at the rivets in the wall. That was when the cook walked in. He paused and
then blurted out something in French. I was too tired to care, so shook my
head, straining to remember the French word for WHAT?!
"You not sick?" the cook managed.
"Only in the head," I sneered with a scowl.
"Everyone sick. We go home."
I sat up, looking around as the cook disappeared into the kitchen. Pulling on my damp soaks with salty hands, I sunk my cold feet back into my boots, and then went to confirm the cook's revelation.
There was a small infirmary, and someone lay in the one and only cot. I immediately headed to the bunks, and found nearly all of them full. Crew and scientists alike, shivering with a fever. Even Samuel was wrapped up in blankets with eyes clenched shut.
I was on my way to the bridge when suddenly that constant hum of the engine fell silent and was replaced with the ever present collisions of great waves. Changing direction, I went straight to engineering.
Osip was yelling as I looked down from the railing. Another crewman was on his knees vomiting, while plumes of steam gushed from a vent, and something like oil poured from a rattling pipe. Avoiding the sick seaman, I called out to Osip. He was still cursing in Russian, but pulled me close, pointing to a row of gauges that were all on zero. I had no idea what Osip was saying or what the problem was, but he put me to work. Less than a minute later, Captain Grant himself showed up, and exchanged some serious words with the engineer.
It only took the whole day before the steam was replace with a slow moan, and then the boom of the engine returned to the tense suspicion of everyone.
I accompanied the captain to the bridge and finally asked what the fuck was going on, but he merely repeated the cook's assessment. He was absolutely livid when we found the last sailor passed out on the bridge floor. The captain took to the intercom, and soon all remaining crew arrived on the bridge. Unfortunately that was only Osip and the cook. No one else showed up. Shit was getting real. And due to the failing engine, Osip insisted that we shouldn't push the ship too hard, despite the captain's priority of returning to the mainland ASAP. It was the cook who then silenced the yelling men. I followed his outstretched arm, and we all saw a huge ship emerge from the distant fog. The captain immediately grabbed the radio, in both English and French, he made an emergency call, but only static replied. He then noticed what the rest of us already had. This big ship was leaning awkwardly forward. It was maybe twice the size of the RV Onbekend, but listing and dead in the water. My first assumption was that it was a cargo ship. There was this drawn out moment where everyone slowly looked at each other, before scanning over the distant ship again. The captain tried the radio again. Nothing. He then grabbed his binoculars, and we all waited.
"We have to go aboard."
My neck slowly craned around, and I whispered, "We?"
"Clearly the ship's in distress. It's our duty."
"We are the one in distress!" Osip yelled, grabbing the captain. "There's no one to spare!"
It seemed, for Captain Grant, to be a basic matter of principle. "We three will take an outboard and investigate."
"And leave the cook in charge?" I frowned bewildered.
"He's the only one qualified to steer the ship."
"You're fucking kidding me."
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 12
We dressed in wetsuits under out wet-weather gear, and I wished that I had
this shit two days ago. Osip hung lengths of rope over his shoulder, and handed
out big flashlights. The captain said that we had to hurry, as it was already
getting dark. We would only look for initial signs of life, grab the logbook
records, and plant a GPS beckon so that the coast guard could salvage the
It all sounded reasonable enough, that was, until I was looking down at the huge waves between the two ships. At that point I grabbed an extra life-jacket and pulled it over my raincoat. I was NOT a happy camper! The wind was deafening as Osip worked a crane and lowered the outboard boat. I was extremely unimpressed. The thing looked like the jet boats that Greenpeace used to harass Japanese whalers, but from my point of view, it was thrown about like a tampon down a flushing toilet. Shaking my head, trying to see the humor in the situation, I nervously chuckled to myself, "I didn't sign up for this shit." So we had to climb down a rope ladder and then just jump into the outboard. Hopefully we would get our timing right and not break a leg or get tossed out. I really, really didn't want to do this bullshit. But then again, the ego never wants to swallow its pride. So fuck it. I landed and was shoved immediately into the side of the research vessel! Osip caught my collar and pulled me back just as a gap opened and the outboard sped away. We all huddled behind the windscreen in the center of the inflatable, as it bounced across the swollen sea. I'm sure we spent most the time in mid air. But at least it was a quick trip.
However, the next ordeal was scaling the hull of the ghost-ship. It might have actually been fun, if I wasn't worried that I could get crushed between the two boats. Osip went up a rusted ladder near the rear of the ship. Then it was my turn. I missed the first rung, caught it on my second attempt, and then the outboard dropped out from under me. My hand reached up and I clung on like a leech. But then the water returned and I was consumed! The sea rose up and went way over my head. Panic seized every inch of my body. What if the sea level doesn't lower again?! So I reached up and climbed. Climbed for oxygen. Climbed the fuck out of this clusterfuck. Oh, and did I mention, the water was fucking freezing. And then I was exposed again. But I wouldn't stop for any-fucking-thing. Up. Up. And over the motherfucking top.
Osip laughed and swung me against a wall where I grabbed a banister and wished I had never come on this fucking nightmare expedition. I'm no sailor! I hate the fucking sea! I don't fucking belong here, and yelled, "For fuck's sake!"
As the captain pulled himself over the railing, I glared back at the ship that we had just left. It was a good hundred meters away. And then it struck me, we had just boarded a sinking fucking ship! What the fuck was I thinking?! This is a job for brave young heroes, not fucking assholes like me!
Osip made the astute observation that all the lifeboats were still here. It wasn't until we piled into the abandoned bridge that we all took note of how bad the situation really was. The ship was leaning 30° to the port-side (left-side), and the bow was hardly above the waves anymore. She was going down, and we all knew it.
"We cannot search the whole ship." Osip thankfully asserted.
The captain nodded, busy switching switches, thumping control panels, and checking the dead intercom.
"If you get the engine started, we could get the pumps going, and buy some time while we search for survivors."
"The Engine?! Are you fucking crazy?!" Osip said exactly what I was thinking. "This is ghost-ship! We come here, find no one, now we go!"
"We have time." Captain Grant seemed oblivious to our anger. "Check the crew quarters in the aft."
"Look, night is here!" Osip yelled grabbing the captain. "You said we go before dark!"
"And now I'm ordering you to check the aft."
My earlier assumption that the captain reminded me of Cary Grant was way off. This cunt had no charm or charisma.
"Fifteen minutes, then we leave," Osip said slowly, backing out as I reluctantly followed. My last glimpse out the windows, was of another enormous wave sweeping over the front the doomed ship.
"Have you got any idea how long before this thing goes under?" I asked, as we struggled along a distorted corridor. "You ever done this sort of shit before?"
"No," Osip said, peering into empty cabins. "First time."
"What do you think happened here?"
Osip stopped and looked at me. "What I think... Is captain should know better!"
"Crew found a breach. Radio a mayday. Another ship rescue them. Ship left to sink," Osip speculated with distinct logic. "We should not be here!"
"I've been saying that for days," I grumbled, as we continued, checking empty room after room.
"Jesus!" Osip yelled, lunging back from a door that he had just kicked in. Swinging my flashlight into the tiny cabin, I was repulsed my the stench of bodily fluids. Mostly the stink of old spit and bad breath. But our flashlights focused on what was balled up in the corner. Like some Mayan mummy, a man was plastered in hundred of pieces of paper. At least five discarded bible covers lay about the floor. The paper-mache cocoon looked solid and spread right out onto the walls, securing the incarcerated occupant to the corner despite the rocking ship. His legs were sealed up close to his chest. His hands covered his face, which was the only part left exposed. Osip stepped carefully into the cabin, reaching slowly out – when suddenly we both heard the cocoon begin to cry. He was still alive! Swearing in Russian, Osip tore at the pages on the wall in an attempt to free the man, but occupant instantly began screeching! He didn't want our help. He had done this to himself.
Shaking his head, Osip backed way, pulling out his radio. "We get the captain."
But there was either no reception or something had happened to the captain. Quickly retracing out steps back up to the bridge, we found Captain Grant leaning over a laptop, watching some old video footage of crewmen working the deck on the ship.
"What's that?" I asked, as we all braced ourselves when the ship heaved harder than before. "What did you find, Captain Catastrophe?"
"It's all in Norwegian. But the equipment is used to survey the sea floor."
"Like we were doing?"
"No. This is much better hardware. Used to chart vast areas. Probably for an oil pipeline."
"That's fucking nice," Osip stated. "But we found someone."
"Psychotic," I added. "You speak Norwegian?"
On our way back to the crew quarters, the captain relayed his findings, "They struck something last night. The submersibles they were dragging, caught on something and it stopped the entire ship where it was. The water is not so deep around the Dogger Bank."
"Maybe they found one of Samuel's lost standing stones."
"What?" Osip asked.
"Yes, what do you mean?" The captain was curious.
"Honestly, I don't know shit. It was his obsession, not mine."
"What do you think they found here?" Captain Grant insisted.
"You know, the Stonehenge of Doggerland. You know, magick circles and shit."
"What do you know of such things?" Osip demanded.
"Seriously, this isn't my fucking fetish. It's Samuel's expertise."
"What do you know about it, then?!" The captain was at the end of this tether. "Speak!"
"Back before the water rose, people lived out here. It was dry land. Samuel reckons places like Stonehenge weren't built as sites of worship, but as places where evil spirits were buried. You know, big stones hold down bad things. His pet conspiracy theory is that the people who built these megaliths needed some real hardcore fucking motivation. The kind of energy put into erecting these stones should have been put into defenses or food. He says it was a way of protecting themselves from... I don't fucking know. Anyway. The seafloor is flat as fuck, isn't it? Well, if you're dragging a net or whatever, and it suddenly gets caught in some fifty ton stone, that's bound to fuck up your day, isn't it?"
"We would have found such standing stones by now," the captain dismissed. "These waters are thoroughly known,"
"Well, you'd know then. So... What the fuck happened here? What could stop a ship this fucking size dead its tracks?"
"I don't know."
Once we reached that stinking cabin, to our confusion, the bundled up man had somehow completed his cocoon and cover his face and hands in spit-wet bible pages.
Captain Grant stood in the doorway, glaring in. "Is he alive?"
"He was," Osip said, glancing down the blackened corridor. "He spoke."
The captain placed his hand on that rigid mass of paper. Nothing. Putting his ear on the cocoon he listened. "Well, he's not breathing now."
"He killed himself?" Osip shook his head. "Ah, I hate this."
"We can't leave him here," the captain asserted, standing back as he stared at the grotesque cocoon. "We have to search for others."
"No! No more searching!" Osip was unflinching with determination. "We did what we came to! We leave now!"
Suddenly a hand broke out of the bible pages and grabbed the captain's arms! The man inside then kept screaming the same thing over and over, until finally the captain yanked his arm free – just as the derelict was smashed into by our own fucking ship! The collision sent everyone ass over elbow. The floor rose, dropped, and then everything went sideways and back again to the sound of shrieking metal on metal.
Running for our lives back to the bridge, Osip insisted on knowing what the crewman had screamed, even though we hadn't even tried to free him. The captain was only interested in radioing his own ship, but to no response. When we made it topside, we discovered the RV Onbekend was now floating parallel to the ghost-ship and right within spitting distance. Snatching Osip's radio from him, the captain tried hailing his ship again, but there wasn't even any light coming from it anymore. The engine must have died again. As the last remnants of daylight faded, all the world was plunged into chaos, and I thought of Milton, "Into this wild abyss the wary Fiend stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while, pondering his voyage."
We were so fucked!
"Get to the boat!" the captain yelled, stuffing the laptop into a resealable plastic bag and handing it Osip. "Radio me when you get on board. Get the engine running!"
"Where the fuck are you going?" I exclaimed, as the two men went in opposite directions without hesitation. "Jesus fuck!"
"The forward hold!" the captain shouted over the wind. "He said the crew was in the forward hold!"
No thank you. Everything forward was underwater. My choice was a no-brainer. Jumping down a staircase, I hurried after Osip – just as the research vessel came plowing straight back into the side of the derelict and annihilated our fucking escape route! The ladder was sheered off, and the outboard was completely fucking obliterated.
"Fuck!" Osip yelled, along with things in Russian that I assumed had similar implications. "Motherfucker, what the fuck!"
"There's plenty of lifeboats!" I called out, my mind racing. "To the fucking lifeboats!"
"Lifeboat won't get us back to ship! No motor to go against current. We are never getting back on Onbekend!"
Now if there's one thing you don't want to surround yourself with in a disaster situation it's a naysayer who's given up all hope. So I ran back inside, after the captain.
It took me all of 30 seconds to regret my new decision as I sunk knee-deep into water full of fucking seaweed. No one likes walking through seaweed. Seaweed is only ever good in sushi. Fuck this shit! "CAPTAIN!" I yelled with everything my lungs had. "WHERE THE FUCK?!"
A voice, that was most definitely not the captain, then moaned without words.
With a pissed off sigh toward myself, I marched on, gripping my flashlight like a fucking club. There were busted pipes and cables hanging all over the passageway with sloshing water in every space. Just look straight ahead, I kept telling myself, don't look at what you're walking through. La, la, la. Everything will be fine. Blah, blah, bull-fucking-shit! The ship heaved and a small wave surged into me down the corridor. I slipped on the slimy weeds and nearly fell on my ass. Snarling, I punched the wall and then stood straight up. Fuck this place! Cracking my neck from side to side, I relaxed. Fatalism took over. This isn't the end of my story. I've been in worse situations. Though I couldn't actually think of when.
That hissing voice groaned again.
The water was half way up my thighs as I looked into that room. An old man in not a thread of clothes sat upon a some large winch-like machine. He had no legs as they had been feed into the meat-grinder of a mechanism. Preoccupied with a pair of needle-nose pliers in his hand, he took little notice of my presence, merely squinted at the bright light as he ripped chunks of fat from his own belly. He was eating it!
I began backing away into deeper waters, when I heard the mutilated man whisper, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the sea gave, and the sea hath taken away; blessed be the name of the sea."
There was then this awful sound of bones cracking and meat slowly tearing. Grasping the edge of the door frame, I leaned around as that deranged man splashed into the water. Regardless of his crippled state, he swam at me like a fucking alligator! His teeth flared and claws slashing out. I wrenched the door shut, driving it right into the man's skull. Bashing him aside with my flashlight, I pulled that fucking door shut. Spinning the handle, I heard the lunatic shrieking and scratching on the other side.
"Come out on a boat trip, see the sights, they said," I laughed sarcastically to myself. "It'll be fun. You'll love it."
And then that unmistakeable detonation of the two ships impacting each other knocked gravity clean off its feet! I slammed into the very door that I had just sealed, and the whole ship leaned dangerously close to capsizing. With another demonic howling of fractured metal, the hull however, corrected itself the right way up.
I was furious with terror!
Yelling out for the fucking captain, I knew the way out would always be upwards, but getting lost in a ghost-ship was never something anyone plans to accomplish. I then waded into a huge space where water was leaking from high above. Captain Grant was standing a few meters ahead, staring into the darkness. His flashlight was at his side underwater and ignored.
"For the love of fuck!" I yelled, as the ship rolled and the water dragged at my legs. "The party is over! Let's get the fuck–"
The flooring disappeared beneath my feet and sunk like a lead-weight. I guess if the place wasn't flooded I would have seen that I had been on a catwalk, luckily I managed to catch a railing and the life-jacket brought me back up. That's when I saw what had the captain so transfixed. The light from my torch reflected of the surface of the water and glistened across the ceiling beams. Yeah, we found the crew. What was left of them. It was as if the internal organs of thirty men had been melted together and stuck to the ceiling like a gigantic wad of bloody chewing gum. There was no sign of their limbs or heads. Just webbed bowels, bloated membranes, and disembodied respiratory systems. It could have just been an effect of the distorted light and the swaying of the ship, but the multiple lungs and exposed hearts still seemed to be functioning. I mean the whole fucking thing was breathing!
The moment I grabbed the captain's shoulder, the two vessels locked horns worse than ever! If there was an appropriate time to shit your pants, it was right then as the ship rolled clean over! I swear to fuck, it was like being trapped inside an enormous fucking washing machine. The water might have cushioned the utter disorder, but gagging on that shit really made things fucking suck cock. Once the ship rocked into some sense of equilibrium, I clung to a wall and realized the boat was now lying totally on its left side. Coughing like a diesel engine, I heard something to my right – that mutilated madman lurched through the water at my throat! Crashing back, I was shoved under – but just as quickly dragged back up. The captain held my life-jacket up while he beat the shit out of that legless freak with his other fist!
"You done napping?" the captain said deadpan. "Let's get the fuck out of here."
"Oh, really? What's the rush?" I spat, as we began climbing the plumbing to the doorway that was now high above us. A hand then sprung out of the water and grabbed my ankle! I can't express how satisfying it was to stomp that demented fuck in his delirious fucking face!
Then a new noise came from that disfigured mass of human body parts. Something was writhing inside of that abominable sack of flesh. Just when I thought nothing could make me hate the sea more, something began tearing itself out of the mesh of straining organs. My father used to say that I was great little swimmer when I was a wee lad. Somewhere along the way, I forgot how. But then again, don't we all start out in life as fetal fish-people before we evolve into biped human-fucking-beings. My only question was, what the fuck was that thing being born as?
The door had shut during the capsizing, and the captain seemed to be struggling to open it. I joined him right when that legless cunt came crawling up the wall below us.
With another blow from the two colliding vessels, and the captain managed to rip the door open. As we hurried into the sideways corridor, I heard a slopping explosion, and glanced back as something big poured out of that patchwork of human atrocity. Running, I flashed the torch back and saw the legless prick grinning as he climbed through the door. But then he screamed, and I watched as he was torn back into the black! His slaughtered shrieks restored my slacking adrenaline. Fuck this place!
The captain and I scrambled up to where the bridge lay, just as a massive swell swept over the entire derelict! We were both washed back into the passageways, but quickly made it back outside just and the sinking ship began to rotate. To my hysterical relief, Osip's flashlight revealed his position aboard one of the freed lifeboats. On any other occasion, the idea swimming in open seas was out of the fucking question, but the captain and I waited for nothing and swam frantically from the rolling hull.
The upside-down derelict looked like a god-sized dead whale. Our ship was nowhere to be seen. And I was never prouder of my feeble swimming skills than that blackened night.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 13
A fishing boat from Denmark picked us up just after dawn.
We were taken to the hospital in Den Helder.
The RV Onbekend was located and rescued by the British Navy. The entire crew was found unconscious and suffering from hypothermia.
There was no reported sighting of the Norwegian derelict.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 14
IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING
I was standing outside the entrance to the hospital, dressed in the only
clothes I had, the wetsuit and rubber coat, pants, and boots. Without ID,
cash, or phone, I had to wait for Captain Grant to arrange a ride back to
Belgium. The wind was almost as bad here as it had been on the voyage, and
my balance was all over the place. At least, for once, I wasn't soaking wet,
and crossed my arms over the salt-crusted stiff layers. A old nurse had dried
our gear while we were getting checked by the doctors. Apart from a few scratches
and bruises, the three of us were perfectly fine.
Osip then appeared, saying that there was a phone call for me. I shook my head, who the fuck had any clue where we were? Taking a step toward the entrance, Osip said it was some woman called Chloe. Ah, and I stopped, returning my gaze back to the bleak parking lot.
"You no want to talk?" Osip asked.
"So what's next for you, my man?" I replied, as he shrugged and stood side by side. "You heading home?"
"Yeah, you know, that place where you shit and eat."
"No. Why would I return to Moldova?"
"Moldova. My home. Where I come from."
"Thought you said you were Russian."
"Speak Russian, from Soviet times."
"The man from Moldova."
"That I am."
"That it is."
"Do you happen to know any women...," I asked with a shrug. "From Iran?"
Osip roared with laughter. "I have known women from everywhere!"
I joined him with a chuckle. "Specifically Iran. Anyone recently in the last year or two?"
Osip's smirk slowly faded and he looked away. "Women from here and there. What does the details matter. Woman is woman. But our past is not the same."
The rain began again, and Osip lit a cigarette. Thinking about his words, I wondered if the outcome last night would have been the same whether I had run after the captain or stayed with Osip. Either way, he was right, our experiences weren't the same.
"Women. Like Muslims and Jews. Abraham, father to both. But Ishmael and Isaac both say they were god's chosen one. Same story, different stories. First born, son of whore. Second born, son of wife. Who is illegitimate? Both? I do not know."
Soon Captain Grant walked outside, going through a thick folder of paperwork. The laptop from the derelict was still wrapped in plastic and under his arm.
"God spoke to Abraham. God himself. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son. Isaac or Ishmael, the chosen one. The one chosen to die. But it was not god who stopped Abraham. Abraham should have sacrificed a son. But an angel stopped him. Genesis 22. Perhaps that angel was a fallen one. A demon that wanted the illegitimate son to live on. Would explain why god never spoke to Abraham after that."
"Why did you leave Moldova?"
"I was a deacon," Osip coughed and smiled. "But blasphemy is blasphemy."
A van then drove into the parking lot, and the captain waved it down.
"She was very beautiful. Long black hair. I do not know if she was from Iran, but she looked so."
"The messenger. The one who excommunicated me."
"Why do you think a devil spared the illegitimate son of Abraham?"
"Divide and conquer," Osip said casually, as he walked straight out into the rain and climbed into the van.
LOGBOOK, ENTRY 15
Most of the drive south was spent sleeping, but I woke just before Ostend.
My phone, wallet, and the rest of my clothes were in a locker at the port office, and it was there that Captain Grant finally confronted me. "You're belongings will be mailed back to you. You're not stepping aboard my ship again."
"You weren't studying deep water currents. You and your associate lied by your own admission," he stated from across the locker room. "Get your things and get out!"
"You weren't the only one lied to," I acknowledged. "So what do you think happened to your crew?"
"Seriously?" I sniggered. "And the crew on that sinking piece of shit?"
"Investigators will have my report and decide for themselves."
"Hey... Do me a favor."
"I left a bunch of charts rolled up on the bridge. I took them from the Professor. See if you can make any sense of what they're all about. And also, if you find a satellite phone on him... Star-sixty-nine that motherfucker."
Captain Grant looked viciously skeptical.
"Oh, and hey," I said, pulling on my Chuck Taylors. "Thanks for not getting me killed."
Soon, I stood on the pier, staring out to sea. I had literally come full circle, and the clouds were just as dismal as ever.
Osip came strolling over from the another building. He smiled, shook my hand firmly, and then marched away without a word. In my palm he had slipped a folded piece of paper. Instinctively, I stuffed my hand into my jacket pocket, assuming there was a reason for Osip's secrecy.
Raising my eyes to the morbid sea, I saw myself looking back. Yet I had nothing to go back to. Nothing worthwhile. Only the devil's work. I was still standing atop the Holy Mountain Of Pigs. What the fuck was there to look forward to? "You should have died!" I heard her. The Iranian woman. She was right. But the body has a will of its own. You fight against a sinking ship, just to face a life not worth shit, not without someone lighting the way back down the mountain this time. You don't want to be, but you don't just stop. So the devil took all that sadness and transmuted my regret into a golden hatred that lit this endarkenment. And there, upon the edge of the sea, I finally recognized that which had been born in the belly of the ghost-ship. In hell, there my father roamed. Unlike Hamlet, I pitied him not. I could see for myself. And old man Satan was calling me, as he always had. If we are all enemies, then we can never be betrayed. We are only allies when our own agendas cross paths for the benefit of the greater arcanum. Eat the suffering of your gods and desecrate their meat. Kill your idols and find no peace.
Opening the small piece of paper, I found an address in Romania. Below was the word, AMAIMON.
© 2017 BRUCE STIRLING JOHN KNOX